Archive for January, 2009

Piney Hills

January 30, 2009

As I mentioned yesterday, my trip to Grambling State University was a success except for the airplane rides. The Delta flight out of Hartford was delayed because of “traffic” around Atlanta. Traffic seems to be a permanent state for that airport. A local said she will only take the very first flight out in the morning even if it means getting up at 4 because after that nothing runs on time.

The plane finally left a half-hour late, and I ran to get the connection for Monroe (pronounced MUNro), Louisiana. I arrived at the gate only to discover that flight was delayed, too. If it had left on time, I would have missed it. They pushed back the departure time twice. Finally said it was announced that the airline was waiting for a mechanic to check out the plane. That should only take about fifteen minutes. Almost an hour later we boarded and were then informed that the delay had occurred because there was a leak in the right front hydraulic something or other. At that point I tuned out – I didn’t want to know any more. Did wonder why they waited till everyone was on board to let us know.

Arrived at the hotel about two hours after I should have. I was hungry, having skipped lunch, and so caught a cab, actually a green mini van with the dispatcher riding shot gun to Appleby’s after they said there was no decent seafood restaurant in the area.

Professor Katherine Bonner picked me up the next morning. She’s a delight, has been friends with Larry’s youngest sister ever since they were in a book club together when Gisele was stationed at Fort Polk. I attended a class where the students had read “Like a Winding Sheet.” They engaged in a lively discussion about the main character, about the racism and poverty of the 1940s, about attitudes toward women. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The second class was chaotic as the teacher was absent, and the students were not being at all clear about their assignment. Discovered after the class that they didn’t realize that the single chapter of The Street didn’t represent the whole book. One young woman seemed truly dismayed to learn that the book didn’t end when Lutie rented the apartment.

After lunch, the Ann Petry Symposium began. The auditorium was packed – probably two hundred people as the English teachers brought their classes. Miss Dessie Saunders read excerpts from Can Anything Beat White? about my grandmother and interspersed it with the most beautiful singing I’ve heard in a long, long time. Her performance moved me to tears, and I jumped up and hugged her when she finished.

It took a bit for me to collect myself, but then I delivered the lecture. Everything seemed to go well, though mostly faculty members asked questions afterward – about mother’s writing habits, my writing habits, about my mother’s connection to the left, what I thought was her best work (The Narrows).

Dinner that night was at Rabb’s where I had a sublime piece of grilled catfish, managing to resist the fried crawfish. In place of rolls, the waitress brought pistolettes to the table. Just looking at the fat glistening on the outside made me nervous – and sure enough, I was right, they were hot, crunchy on the outside, soft like a muffin inside. I’ve checked out a couple of recipes, and they all seem to start with a stick or two of butter and end with frying in hot oil. Scary.

My hotel had some information about the area around Grambling. There are three universities within about thirty miles of each other. Louisiana Tech is in Ruston, and a branch of Louisiana University at Monroe. The schools are just beginning to cooperate with each other.

I also learned that the town of Grambling had actually grown up around the university and wasn’t incorporated until 1953 even though the school has been there since 1901. The little town seems at this point to be a microcosm of what’s going on in the rest of the country. The mayor is under investigation for ignoring alleged embezzlement of city funds and is fighting with the board of aldermen, which wants her to resign.

The folks down there were complaining about the cold. It was 40 when I arrived and 65 when I left. I told them they get no sympathy from me. It was 5 degrees in Connecticut on Sunday morning and had warmed to a balmy 20 when we were driving to the airport. The northern part of the TV coverage area down there is southern Arkansas, and everyone was in a total panic because an ice storm was bringing down power lines, and causing accidents on glazed roads. We had a little rain and dense fog in the a.m. But that southern sun had burned it all away by the time I left at noon.

The flight from Monroe to Atlanta was late, of course. No reason given this time, and they didn’t announce it until 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time, after everyone had cleared security and left behind the restrooms and all other amenities available at an airport with three gates.

Since I had several hours between flights I wasn’t worried about the late departure and in fact arrived only a half-hour behind schedule. Walked from terminal C to terminal E where my boarding pass had listed the flight to Hartford. It was the best part of the airport experience as this is the international arrivals and departures area with a duty free shop, nice bookstore, a sushi bar (I didn’t indulge), and a man playing the piano in the food court. When I got ready to go to the gate, I began to wonder why I was seeing flights for Amesterdam, British West Indies, etc. Got to the designated gate only to be told that the plane was leaving from Terminal B. Returned and of course by 5:30 they hadn’t started boarding for a 5:50 departure.

Plane left close to on time, but I wound up sitting next to this guy who was too big – too tall and to wide to fit comfortably in one seat, so I was hanging out in the aisle for most of the trip. Flight arrived early, but I had to wait at the airport because Larry had a meeting.

I’m Back!

January 29, 2009

Except for the flights down and back, I had a wonderful time in the Piney Hills. Details to follow tomorrow.

For now, John Updike. He was an enormously talented man and deserved the recognition he received. I admired his short stories, especially the Pigeon Feathers collection. And the Rabbit quartet captured a big part of the American middle – middle class, middling sensibilities, middling achievement. John Cheever’s New England settings and WASP characters were more recognizable because they were closer to where I lived and people I encountered. Perhaps that’s why I liked Updike’s Couples, which is set in Massachusetts, more than the Pennsylvania novels and stories. For some reason I read S shortly Couples, even though it was published much later. It was terrific to watch a master riff on The Scarlet Letter.

And then came The Witches of Eastwick. I thought it was about the most sexist, misogynistic work ever created – and that includes “works” by Hugh Heffner & co. I became even more infuriated after I saw the movie. Stayed mad at myself for days that I wasted a couple of hours watching it, having wasted even more time reading the dreck on which it was based. I did not have to discover “how hard it is to keep the plot straight, let alone to sort out one’s honest responses,” as Updike put it. My honest response was “disgusting.”

It was a long, long time before I opened any more Updike, though I did finally manage to read the second and third volumes of the Bech series, which left almost no impression on me.

It’s good to know that another work is on the horizon even though the great author died on Tuesday. Here’s hoping his last is his best.


January 23, 2009

Sorting – speech, clothes; looking for travel toothbrush; sent off bio material.

Found proper reading material for the flight: The Right Attitude to Rain, the third of the Isabel Dalhousie novels. (See post of January 15).

I’ll be at Grambling early in the week. The blog will return on January 28, probably with a full report of the actitivies.

Crazy Day

January 23, 2009

It started with the arrival of the arborist – and his truck, ladder, chain saw and wood chipper (still no Fargo references). He had to decapitate about half my beautiful lilac to get his truck into the yard. And it took him better than an hour to set up his equipment. But he just dropped the top 50 + feet of the dead tree in a perfect line. We’ll miss the shade it gave but if it fell on its own, it was going to land on the neighbor’s house.

Sometime in there a friend called to say that a close friend of Larry’s had died. We were expecting word, but it just seemed to arrive in the middle of mayhem.

Just as the tree guy was squeezing his truck between my lilac and my neighbor’s euonymus, and I was contemplating getting organized for my trip, a good friend called from divorce court, where she’d just ended her marriage of more than 20 years. She was happy, sad, and needed a cup of tea. She came over and we chatted and sipped tea. She timed her departure perfectly because the top of the tree hit the ground about 20 minutes after she left, feeling much better than when she arrived.

My desk still looks like a trash heap, the clothes for my trip still aren’t sorted out, and I have no idea what I’m going to take for reading material. (See yesterday’s blog).

Will curtail this entry and get down to business.

A whole bunch of other stuff has happened between 11:30 when I updated and now, 8:30 as I write, but it’s gonna hafta wait.

Flight 1549

January 22, 2009

Took yesterday off to watch history. Cried, laughed, and celebrated!

The Satellite Sisters (see posts of September 17 and September 18) posed the Question of the Week, asking how their readers would respond to if they had been on Flight 1549.

I wrote:

Your question has been much on my mind since the splash landing as I’m flying from the snowy Northeast to Monroe, Louisiana, next Sunday. I had a horrible experience with a flight to Charlotte, N.C., a few years ago when my about-to-be husband and I were stranded over night without food, luggage, or a place to stay (we thought) because of an ice storm. Something about that city …
My normal reaction to any adversity is to bury myself in whatever book I happen to be reading, so I’d probably have a novel tucked inside the life vest. On a recent trip I was reading Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I Am Dying and got so engrossed that I forgot the plane was descending and nearly yelled when the wheels touched down on a normal landing. Long ago I didn’t notice the weather until the book hit me in the face on a particularly rough dip and glide. On this flight I’ll probably pick something tried and true – maybe Mists of Avalon, though it’s a bit heavy for the old handbag. On the other hand, the new P.D. James’ mystery The Private Patient looks pretty interesting.
Anyway I’ll pray for happy reading and happy landings!

After sending the email, I realized that the answer was more complicated. I’ve only been on two really bad flights. One was on the old Allegheny Airlines, a flight from Tweed New Haven Airport to Philadelphia. My dad called it Agony Airlines and said those were either Hail Mary or white knuckle flights. This from a man who never boarded a plane after 1955. As to Tweed, I’ve seen bigger postage stamps bigger, and the runway is about 10 feet from Long Island Sound, so even in good weather takeoffs and landings are exciting. Of course nothing larger than a sixteen seater could land then – I don’t know about now. On this particular flight, we hit a thunderstorm about half way to New York. As I mentioned I was reading and didn’t realize how bad things were until the book hit me in the face. For whatever reason, I stayed calm until the plane made its scheduled landing at LaGuardia. Ditto for one really choppy ferry crossing from Orient Point to New London.

The second bad flight was more strange than truly dangerous, and I suspect had more human than mechanical problems. Larry and I were headed to the Petry family reunion in Abbeville and had a perfect flight from Hartford to Atlanta. We should have known there was a problem when the Atlanta-Lafayette leg was delayed for an hour. This was when Delta was inflicting problems on its unions, and unions and management were taking it out on the passengers. After we reached altitude, it seemed like the plane was flying a zig-zag pattern and that the engines accelerated and then decelerated. We were about half way to Lafayette when the pilot announced he was returning to Atlanta because of mechanical problems. He wouldn’t risk touching down in Lafayette due to thunderstorms.

Every passenger on the plane wondered why in hell we took off in the first place, and why he waited until halfway through the trip to turn back. We zigged and zagged and lurched back to Atlanta. We finally arrived in Lafayette eight hours late. I was furious throughout.

Wrestle Mania

January 19, 2009

I had an eye-opening experience on Saturday as I helped out at a high school wrestling invitational – at least I guess that’s what it was. There must have been teams from about 40 public and parochial schools from all over Connecticut in attendance. It’s scary to see what the next generation will look like, especially knowing that most of them haven’t finished growing. A couple of those boys, actually young men, were of average or below average height – 5 feet 6 inches or better, but they weighed 200 plus pounds, and it was all solid muscle. Their necks were as big around as my waist! And the deep voices. One kid said, “Thank you,” to me. I looked up expecting to see Barry White. But he was a 14-year-old white kid just an inch or two taller than I am.

There was also what I consider some evidence of steroid use – lots acne, over developed muscles. I hope they get away from the nasty stuff before it does its worst damage.

And there were girls! Not many, but a few, including one who came back from college to help out. She said she’s only had to pin a few guys who think girls can’t wrestle. It was good to see that the females looked healthy and drug free.

The major excitement for the day was that the sprinkler system froze, not surprising since it was below zero over night and maybe reached a high of 10 degrees during the day. But the fire marshal’s office had a representative on duty all day, and nothing burned down.

Grambling Lecture

January 16, 2009

Working on the lecture for Grambling. Here’s a little taste:

I chose the title “Bright Days, Foggy Nights” because the two works I’m going to discuss show the contrast of humor and lightness in “The New Mirror” and fairly unrelieved tragedy in The Narrows on the other. Though there are elements of humor in the novel and a whiff of tragedy in the short story.

I chose bright days because “The New Mirror” contains a wonderful description of the pharmacist Mr. Layen standing under three cherry trees in his backyard listening to the honey bees. When Mother wrote the story, we were living in a house with three such trees in the yard. When the flowers were in bloom, the yard seemed to have a pink-white glow. And it really did sound like someone was operating a low-key but rather loud factory.


January 16, 2009

I’ve mentioned in several posts July 28, Nov. 10, Nov. 25, that I give Reiki treatments. Since I have to explain what it is for a program that my sister-in-law is launching next week, I’ll let this be the first draft.

Reiki (pronounced “Ray-key”) is a relaxation technique. The word combines two Japanese words – Rei, which means Higher Power and Ki, which means life force.

Reiki is based on the idea that there is a life energy that flows all around us. People who are trained in the technique use their hands in a gentle touch to promote the energy flow in the person receiving the treatment. The treatments can affect the body, the mind, and the spirit. While it definitely has a spiritual aspect, Reiki is not affiliated with any religion, and one need not have religious beliefs to obtain benefits from it or to learn to give the treatments.

Everyone has a slightly different sense of what it feels like to receive Reiki, but many people experience a sensation of warmth throughout their bodies. One woman I treated said she smelled her mother’s bread baking. A man said he saw a flash of purple light as soon as I touched the top of his head. Some people fall asleep while receiving a Reiki treatment. Nearly everyone feels deeply relaxed when it is over, though some people find that they have more energy. The effects can last for a few minutes or for several hours. One woman reported that after her first treatment, she had the first good night’s sleep that she’d had in a long while.

A full treatment typically lasts about an hour as people lie on a massage table. Reiki can be performed while the person is sitting as well. Specific parts of the body can be treated for five or ten minutes.

Some practitioners claim they can heal injuries and illnesses, but Reiki is not a substitute for any type of medical treatment, physical or psychological. Practitioners will not diagnose or prescribe other types of treatment unless they are also licensed as doctors or nurses.

Many medical people do, however, recommend Reiki as a supplement to other treatments because they believe it speeds healing. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York offers Reiki training to its medical professionals.

There is some disagreement about the history of Reiki. It may be based on a practice that dates back three thousand years or more. It may have started in Tibet or Japan or India. Everyone agrees, though, that in its modern form it began in Japan about 100 years ago. Dr. Mikao Usui discovered the technique. He passed his knowledge of the symbols and hand positions to Chujiro Hayashi.

A woman named Hawayo Takata, who was born in Hawaii of Japanese parents, brought the practice of Reiki to the United States just after World War II. She had become seriously ill during a visit to Japan, and Hayashi gave her Reiki treatments, which healed her. After she recovered she persuaded him to teach her. She returned to Hawaii and continued to teach and practice Reiki. Eventually she trained 22 people who have passed down the knowledge to the present day. Other methods are also available now, but the Usui method is traditional.

These days there are a great many Reiki practitioners and teachers all over the world. The best way to find a practitioner is to talk to someone who has received a Reiki treatment – friends, neighbors, relatives. They will be able to recommend someone to you. Some YMCAs and other such organizations offer treatment or training. Otherwise, you can check with the International Association of Reiki Professionals, where you receive a list based on your Zip code.

Just for Today Do not worry, Accept
Just for today, do not anger.
Honour your parents, teachers and elders
Earn your living honestly
Show gratitude to all living things.

– Dr. Mikao Usui

Precious on HBO

January 15, 2009

Thrilling news arrived Monday. My favorite detective is going to be on television. Months ago I mentioned that Alexander McCall Smith was among the top mystery writers. See RIP, Tony Hillerman.

I have no memory of when I first discovered his wonderful series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, but I look forward to each new volume. His heroine is Precious Ramotswe, “the only lady private detective in Botswana,” who is proud of her verdant, peaceful and prosperous country. Now she’s going to have her own series on HBO, personified by the gorgeous Jill Scott.

I hope the series does justice to Mma Ramotswe’s distinctive voice. She calls herself “traditionally built,” meaning she does not strive for the twig-thin look. In fact the upcoming mystery is titled Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. Besides the search for emaciation, Mma Ramotswe (no one calls her Precious) disapproves of a great many other modern attitudes, attitudes that cause people to rush around so they don’t have time to sip a cup of bush tea and contemplate the beautiful countryside.

As the series progresses, Mma Ramotswe begins a very proper engagement to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni who owns a car repair shop called Speedy Motors. The romance has a few twists and turns, beginning when Mr. Matekoni presents her with two small children whom he has rescued from an orphanage.

As I was enjoying the third book in the series, Morality for Beautiful Girls, in which Mma Ramotswe investigates the contestants in the “Beauty and Integrity Contest,” along came Isabel Dalhousie.

Isabel is a highly educated middle-aged woman of independent means. She lives in Edinburgh where she edits a journal called The Review of Applied Ethics. In her spare time, she applies philosophical theory to solving such mysteries as why a man fell to his death from the balcony of a concert hall.

While Mma Ramotswe revels in the vast stretches of open plain, Isabel’s world is circumscribed by a small “everyone knows everyone” circle in the streets and closes of an ancient city. And the novels take much more work than the average detective story, what with all that philosophy. Isabel’s best quality, though, is that she toys with the idea of having an affair with a man who is 15 years younger than she is. Go ahead, Isabel!

AMS has two other series that I haven’t read. 44 Scotland Street, with four books, concerns the residents of a boarding house in Edinburgh; Portuguese Irregular Verbs, with three books, deals with a professor of philology who seems determined to get himself into various scrapes. More great stuff to look forward to after I finish the next “mandatory” on my book list.

A lawyer by training, AMS also makes contributions to the field of music by playing in the Really Terrible Orchestra, which he co-founded with his wife. “The name was carefully chosen: what it said was what you would get.” This quote comes from a marvelous piece in The Telegraph. Sad to say, the audio seems to be missing, but you can hear it on his site. No wonder they receive standing ovations after plying their audiences with large quantities of wine.

News flash: the RTO will be appearing in New York. On April 1. How appropriate.

Never Mind

January 14, 2009

Well, I started a perfectly brilliant and insightful essay on Alexander McCall Smith and Precious and Isabel, but I got interrupted at 10:30 a.m. after the first 150 words and it is now 9:05 p.m. and I have added nary a word, so the brilliance and whatnot will have to wait until tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.